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Against the UK's Online Safety Bill: we're at risk of losing our privacy

11th September 2023

Christopher Hatton

The UK Parliament has proposed the Online Safety Bill, which jeopardises the safety & privacy of all UK residents. This bill will require that all online services implement backdoors into end-to-end encrypted services, allowing UK authorities to access anyone's files, messages, or other online content which was supposedly encrypted, secure & private. This will no longer be the case.

The government body overseeing the Online Safety Bill is Ofcom. We should be able to trust this organisation, but like everything, nothing is perfect. It is extremely likely that at some point, someone, with or without authority, will take advantage of or abuse this system. The consequences of this will be detrimental to whomever is affected, and unfortunately, there is no way of protecting yourself from this. This is why I am strongly opposed to this proposed bill.

I want to move on to why Parliament is working on this bill. The reasons for it are completely and utterly retarded. Parliament has given five objectives that it aims to solve with the bill:

  1. to increase user safety online
  2. to preserve and enhance freedom of speech online
  3. to improve law enforcement’s ability to tackle illegal content online
  4. to improve users’ ability to keep themselves safe online
  5. to improve society’s understanding of the harm landscape

As you probably have noticed, these points contradict each other. One cannot simply improve safety, freedom of speech and understanding by preventing the use of encryption. Without encryption, it will be much easier for gatekeepers to censor, remove, or penalise content that it (or its investors) don't agree with. An additional complication of the abolition of encryption is the increased difficulty of keeping users safe online. Encryption is a vital tool for preventing and discouraging malicious persons from accessing private & personal information.

To put it simply, these aims are entirely nullified by the elimination of encryption.

Now, I'm not painting a good argument if I don't provide a compromise or solution. But, this solution has always been with us: decryption. Parliament is proposing this bill to make it easier to investigate CSAM. What is the point in annihilating encryption - leading to devastating consequences - when you can just get suspects to decrypt their data? If the authorities are well and truly competent, they DO NOT need to invade innocent people's privacy.

This bill is just plain stupid. The only benefits this upcoming bill has, is to make it easier for anyone to access your private & personal information. Ofcom will have the authority to seize anyone's unencrypted data. This is troublesome, because nothing is perfect; especially the trust and cyber-security of government organisations. What are the chances that someone has intentions to abuse Ofcom's powers? These people could be stalkers, criminals or rogue police officers - inside or outside of Ofcom. Email spoofing is fairly easy to carry out in a basic form, but its effects can be much more destructive when carried out by experienced cyber-criminals with malicious intent. If Ofcom's systems are not impossibly immaculate, then they will be ripe for abuse. I predict that within five years of the bill passing, there will be a large, severe and consequential data breach as a byproduct of this bill, affecting at least 50% of the UK's population.

Unfortunately, the only way to protect yourself from the consequences of the Online Safety Bill (other than completely abandoning your UK residence), is to protest the bill, and to prevent it from becoming reality. There isn't much time before it passes, so it is unlikely anything will change. If you care about your privacy, the UK is not an adequate place to reside.

"Even back then, I realized that any opposition to this system would be difficult, not least because getting its rules changed to serve the interests of the majority would involve persuading the rule makers to put themselves at a purposeful disadvantage. That, ultimately, is the critical flaw or design defect intentionally integrated into every system, in both politics and computing: the people who create the rules have no incentive to act against themselves." - Edward Snowden